1. Do I need to wear a bra after breast cancer surgery?
Breast cancer surgery, and sometimes , may make your chest area feel particularly sensitive. Wearing a bra may make you feel more comfortable, but this isn’t always the case.
Your surgeon or breast care nurse may advise you on what bra to wear depending on the type of surgery you have had. You don’t need to wear a specific post-surgery or bra unless you are advised to.
If you are not given any advice about bras following surgery, check with your surgeon or breast care nurse what is best to wear.
In the first few weeks after surgery, most women wear a soft, non-wired bra that isn’t too restrictive.
You may find a front-fastening bra easier to put on as your shoulder may be stiff at first. Our leaflet Exercises after breast cancer surgery has exercises to help ease stiffness.
Men who have had breast cancer surgery will be advised by their treatment team on how they can make the area treated by surgery more comfortable.
Wearing a bra shortly after breast reconstruction
If you have had you may be advised to wear a bra initially during the day and night after your surgery.
Many women are concerned about finding comfortable and well-fitting bras following breast reconstruction. Your surgeon will advise what bra to wear depending on your type of reconstruction.
2. Choosing a bra while you are healing
For up to a year after surgery your shape and size may alter due to weight and treatment-related changes. During this time the type of bra you need may also change.
While the area recovers from surgery, the nerves repair and any skin changes from radiotherapy settle down, you may want to choose a bra that has:
- Soft seams
- A wide underband (the band that goes under the cups and round your back)
- Deep front and side panels
- Full cups
- Cup separation (the centre of the bra between the cups should sit flat on your chest)
- Fully adjustable straps
- A simple design (details on the bra, like lace, may make it less comfortable)
- No underwires (the wires sewn in under each cup)
Don’t wear an underwired bra while the area is recovering from surgery because the underwires can be uncomfortable. However, underwire bras can be worn when the area has healed.
Initially after breast surgery you may have some swelling. Try to find a bra that is a chest size bigger. For example, if you are a 34B, choose a 36B.
If possible, choose bras that have a high cotton content. These will be gentler on your skin while it heals and will help you stay cooler if you’re experiencing hot flushes.
Bra strap cushions can make the straps more comfortable on your shoulder and help the bra stay in place. You can buy these from lingerie shops or online.
Once the skin in the chest area has healed and settled down, which may take up to a year, you can wear any bra. However, if you’re planning to wear a prosthesis (an artificial breast form that replaces the shape or all or part of the breast), your bra will need to fit well and have enough support for your prosthesis.
Find out more about breast prostheses.
Our leaflet Your guide to a well-fitting bra is for anyone who wants to know how a bra should fit. It includes illustrations and practical tips on how to make sure your bra fits comfortably and gives proper support.
3. Where can I buy a bra after breast cancer surgery?
Suppliers: bras, prostheses, clothes and swimwear
Most lingerie shops, and some high-street shops or department stores, have experienced bra fitters who’ll fit you and advise you on your size and a suitable bra.
As your shape and size may change during and after treatment, it’s a good idea to have your bra size checked before you buy any new bras.
An experienced bra fitter will often have specialist training and experience in helping women who have had or are going to have breast surgery. It might be useful to call ahead and make an appointment to ensure you can be seen by a trained fitter.
You can buy post-surgery or mastectomy bras from specialist suppliers, in person or online, that are designed for women who have had their breast(s) removed. Post-surgery bras are also available from high-street shops, which can often be a cheaper option.
If you are going to wear a prosthesis, a well-fitting bra with a full cup is often all that’s needed to hold your prosthesis in place. Many women find this creates a natural appearance and is secure enough.
However, some women prefer to have a bra with a pocket designed to help the prosthesis sit more securely in their bra.
Post-surgery bras come with bra pockets, or you can adapt an ordinary bra by sewing a piece of stretchy material across the back of the bra cup to act as a pocket.
Pockets are also available to sew in yourself. These are available online from most post-surgery bra stockists.
You can watch our video about choosing a suitable bra after surgery.
4. Videos: bras after breast surgery
Features of a well-fitting bra after surgery
Leeanne, who had surgery for breast cancer, talks to Breast Cancer Now nurse Addie and M&S bra fitter Alison about the features of a well-fitting bra after surgery.
What happens at a bra fitting?
Corinna, who had surgery for breast cancer, talks to Breast Cancer Now nurse Addie and M&S bra fitter Alison about what happens at a bra fitting.
Why it's important to be fitted for a bra
Leeanne, who had surgery for breast cancer, talks to Breast Cancer Now nurse Addie and M&S bra fitter Alison about the reasons it's important be fitted for a bra by a professional bra fitter.
Prostheses and bras after breast cancer surgery
Corinna, who had surgery for breast cancer, talks to Breast Cancer Now nurse Addie and M&S bra fitter Alison about how to choose and use bras with a breast prosthesis.
Using a partial prosthesis in a bra
Leeanne, who had surgery for breast cancer, talks to Breast Cancer Now nurse Addie and M&S bra fitter Alison about using partial prostheses while wearing a bra.
Bras after breast reconstruction
Corinna, who had surgery for breast cancer, talks to Breast Cancer Now nurse Addie and M&S bra fitter Alison about breast reconstruction following breast cancer surgery, and how that affects choosing a bra.
5. Will I have to pay for my bras after breast cancer surgery?
You will normally have to pay for your bras but post-surgery bras are exempt from VAT if they’re bought by someone who’s had breast cancer surgery.
The order forms on most websites and catalogues have a box you can tick so you don’t have to pay VAT.
If you’re buying a post-surgery bra from a shop, check with a member of staff before paying for your bra. Many shops may ask you to sign a VAT exemption form stating that you have had breast surgery. You shouldn’t need to provide a doctor’s letter or other medical proof.
Macmillan Cancer Support provides grants that can be used to buy post-surgery bras and swimwear.
If you have been advised to wear a special bra and you or your partner are claiming certain benefits, you don’t have to pay for it. The NHS Business Services Authority website has information about this.
If you are not receiving a qualifying benefit but are on a low income you may still be eligible for a free post-surgery bra or help towards the cost of one under the NHS Low Income Scheme.